Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Kurt Vonnegut is Alienated, Too

In Kurt Vonnegut's book, Slapstick, there is a presidential candidate whose slogan is, "Lonesome No More!" and the platform is that everybody is going to be assigned to an extended family so nobody will have to get by entirely on his own. I remember he says, you know there are people who spend their whole lives on Earth wondering if maybe they have been sent to the wrong planet. A classic description of alienation. Artificial extended families is a cute idea but they wouldn't cure that kind of alienation.

In his book How to be Alone, Jonathan Franzen speaks of "isolates"--these are people who feel more comfortable with a book than with other people, and he doesn't seem to think it is such a bad thing. Franzen does admit that he went through a period of clinical depression, and I can't help thinking that isolation contributed to that situation.

Marilyn French once wrote, "Loneliness is not a longing for company; it is a longing for kind." That describes my feelings pretty much. Nothing makes me feel lonelier than being around a bunch of people who can't understand who I am. But time spent in the company of a kindred spirit makes me happy.

So, I enjoy reading Vonnegut's books, because he and I are on the same wavelength most of the time. In his latest book, A Man Without A Country, he tells a story about Powers Hapgood, a Harvard graduate, a socialist who worked in a coal mine and tried to organize the workers. A judge asked him why he had given up a comfortable middle class life for a struggling working class existence, and he answered, "Why, because of the Sermon on the Mount, Sir." And Vonnegut says, "Hooray for our team!" I'm on Vonnegut's team, too. Hooray for us. Lonesome no more!


[Washington Post Vonnegut profile here.]


yellojkt said...

Great commentary. Loneliness is a major theme in Vonnegut. As well as artificial extended families. I need to do a review of "Man Without A Country" for my blog since it is named for Foma.

Karen said...

That's right, yellojkt. I thought of posting on your blog: "Vonnegut post today!" ("link, link") but, let's face it, we don't know each other that well(!!) It's been my mission to bring Vonnegut to the Achenblog--lots of fans over there, including the A-man himself. Thanks for stopping by, and I look forward to your review of the book.

yellojkt said...

The sychronicity of this post and the WaPo article made me finally write a long simmering post about his new book. I was in a ruch, but I think I wll go back and add a link.